Iowa Alumni Magazine | December 2005 | People

Peace Mission: Meg Kiekhaefer

By Kathryn Howe

When Meg Kiekhaefer returned from her three-month stint as a humanitarian aid worker in Israel-Palestine in 2003, she was surprised that the drive from Coralville to Iowa City didn’t require a stop at a military checkpoint. Haunted by her memories, she fully expected an interrogation at the city limits, not the privilege of coming and going as she pleased.

Kiekhaefer didn’t know what to expect when she volunteered; but she did know the time was right to take a meaningful risk. This mother of two grown sons watched as the U.S. stood on the brink of war in another part of the world. She wanted to promote peace, and decided to do so in a place that desperately needs intervention.

The only American in a group of 25 peacekeepers assembled by the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program, she was assigned to live in Ramallah and work in other Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, including Hebron, Gaza, and Jenin. She had no specific agenda: “Just being a presence was important,” says Kiekhaefer, who refuses to take sides in the struggle—she only speaks from her observations in Ramallah.

Kiekhaefer patrolled military checkpoints between Israel and Palestine for human rights abuses. She visited a school, assisted displaced Palestinians in a refugee camp/rehabilitation center, and protested the demolition of a Palestinian suicide bomber’s house. She spent time listening to people’s fears and despair over unemployment, home invasions, the lack of food. She heard of Israeli soldiers entering Palestinian homes at 2 a.m., of people surviving on cigarettes and coffee, and of children who spend their days hiding in dark rooms.

“The Palestinian people are traumatized,” says Kiekhaefer, a retired UI microbiologist and one-time director of Iowa City’s Table to Table food distribution program. “Life is so uncertain.

“We don’t often take the time to get involved in what goes on in the world,” she adds. “But if we don’t, I think we lose our humanity.”